SDS: The rise and development of the Students for a Democratic Society
It quickly becomes apparent that this is the bible for anyone interested in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Clocking in at a whopping 700+ pages, Sale has exhaustively researched almost every aspect of this organization and turned that research into interesting and concise reading. His research on SDS encompasses books, the SDS archives in Wisconsin, interviews and letters with some of the movers and shakers in SDS, and even archives for the League of Industrial Democracy (SDS's parent organization). The book is divided into four sections: Reorganization, Reform, Resistance and Revolution. Within these divisions Sale creates chapters based on the seasons, such as Summer 1965 or Fall 1967. The book covers roughly 12 years, from 1960 to 1972 (the book was published in 1973). Sale still writes articles for such magazines as The Nation, as well as other books, one on Robert Fulton being his most recent.
SDS started out as SLID, or the Student League of Industrial Democracy, an arm of the LID mentioned above. LID was an Old Left organization made up of cautious anti-Communist liberals/socialists. Sale details every aspect of SDS; the formation of the group under the watchful eyes of Al Haber and Tom Hayden, the writing of the Port Huron Statement, the tensions between the intellectuals and actionists which resulted in the ERAP projects (and the failure of those projects), the infusion of new SDS members from mid-America which moved the power base from the East Coast and radicalized the movement. Sale continues his account all the way to the demise of SDS into two Communist factions: Weatherman and PL-SDS. Sale knows he's telling a long tale and constantly stops along the way for summaries and recaps of problems. The ominous appearance of sections on the Progressive Labor Party (PL) provides a separate timeline of this group until its infiltration and destruction of SDS in the later 1960's.
As useful as this history is, Sale does have his limitations. He rarely provides any look at the intellectual underpinnings of SDS, an aspect that is critical in understanding their ideas and some of their weaknesses. There are only a few mentions of C. Wright Mills, for example. Mills was critical to early SDS thought and should definitely have a place in any history of SDS (James Miller's book provides an intellectual history of SDS). Another problem is that Sale is writing so close to his subject. In 1973 Weather bombs are still going off and principal members of SDS are still protesting. Sale misses out on what the perspective of time can do for people. Finally, for a book so exhaustive and meticulous in its approach, there is no reprint of the Port Huron Statement to be found, not in the text or in an appendix, which I find very surprising.
If you are going to do any reading on SDS, let alone any research, you must read this book, and I recommend reading it before you read any other books on the topic. Unfortunately, it's out of print. I haven't seen a copy available anywhere ..., but a reprint could always happen at anytime. Highly Recommended.